Suspected pulmonary embolism in pregnancy: clinical presentation, results of lung scanning, and subsequent maternal and pediatric outcomes

Arch Intern Med. 2002 May 27;162(10):1170-5. doi: 10.1001/archinte.162.10.1170.


Background: Ventilation-perfusion (VQ) scanning is used when pulmonary embolism (PE) is suspected during pregnancy; however, the distribution of lung scan results and safety of VQ scanning have never been studied.

Objective: To study the distribution of lung scan results and safety of VQ scanning as well as the safety of withholding anticoagulation therapy following a normal or nondiagnostic scan in pregnant women.

Methods: The study group comprised 120 consecutive pregnant women who presented with suspected PE. Clinical data were collected, and the lung scans were reinterpreted by 2 independent experts. Subsequent pregnancy and pediatric outcomes were determined by direct patient follow-up.

Results: During the study period, 120 pregnant women (mean age, 32 years) underwent 121 VQ scans. Eight cases (6.6%) were already receiving treatment for venous thromboembolism prior to VQ scanning. In the remaining 113 scans, 83 (73.5%) were interpreted as normal, 28 (24.8%) as nondiagnostic, and 2 (1.8%) as high probability. In the 104 women who did not receive anticoagulation therapy following lung scanning (80 normal and 24 nondiagnostic), no venous thromboembolic events were reported (mean [range] length of follow-up, 20.6 [0.5-108] months). Examination of pediatric data from 110 live births (90.2%) (mean [range] age, 20.5 [0.5-100] months) revealed no increase in the rates of congenital and developmental anomalies.

Conclusions: The prevalence of high-probability VQ scans in pregnant women with suspected PE and probable PE is very low. Withholding anticoagulation in pregnant women with normal or nondiagnostic VQ scans is probably safe. In addition, pediatric risks from VQ scans are low. Large prospective studies are needed to evaluate diagnostic strategies for pregnant women with suspected PE.

MeSH terms

  • Anticoagulants / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Ontario
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Risk Management*
  • Ventilation-Perfusion Ratio


  • Anticoagulants